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Business has held up well, says Freisenbruch-Meyer boss

Freisenbruch-Meyer president Michael Freisenbruch, who believes the Bermuda economy may have contracted by as much as eight percent

Freisenbruch-Meyer Group’s philosophy of providing the customer with the best possible service and value really came into its own during one of the toughest economic years in Bermuda’s history.The local insurer, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, has enjoyed modest growth in 2010 despite the impact of the recession, maintaining its loyal client base and looking to take advantage of opportunities to expand all lines of business in the future.A lot of that success is down to founder and president of the group Michael Freisenbruch and the work ethic he has instilled in the company and its employees, which has enabled them to respond quickly and efficiently to significant events such as Hurricane Igor.In an exclusive interview with The Royal Gazette, Mr Freisenbruch covered a number of issues ranging from the rising cost of health care in Bermuda to the outlook for the local insurance market in 2011.“Essentially we have had modest growth throughout the year in all areas,” he said. “I believe most of our competitors have as well, so we feel fortunate within the context of a difficult economic year for Bermuda that at least the domestic insurance business and our business has performed reasonably and that would be across all lines of business.”Mr Freisenbruch said there had been a lot of speculation about the increased contraction of the Island’s economy, which he acknowledged would bring a number of issues and problems, but added that Freisenbruch-Meyer was optimistic in its nature and would continue to serve its customers and grow its business responsibly.“We want to make sure that we continue to do a good job so we have been adapting to changing market conditions as they arise,” he said.“I believe that the there has been a contraction of eight percent in the Bermuda economy in real terms and that is pretty severe - the big question mark is will we see a further contraction in 2011 and from what I am hearing the answer is yes and that is concerning, but as a business we are here to perform for our clients and be optimistic.“It might also mean that we have to become better at what we do and we have done in order to become more efficient.”The spiralling cost of health care in Bermuda has impacted the whole population, not least the local insurance companies, but Mr Freisenbruch has confidence in the work Government agencies and the Bermuda Health Council have been carrying out to reshape the environment for health care suppliers and insurers offering health coverage to come up with a viable solution.“We need to fully understand and digest what the full range of options might be and really adapt our business to work with it in a changing health insurance market,” he said.“Freisenbruch-Meyer is a very small health insurance provider but we wish to expand into that area.“We wish to and are providing input into the various bodies including the Health Insurers Association, the Minister and Government, but it is a real concern in terms of health cost inflation and unfortunately at the moment I don’t really have any magic bullets.“Obviously cost containment is crucial, but I would have a much better view of the situation in six months’ time.”One of the main events of 2010 for the company was Hurricane Igor, but Mr Freisenbruch sighs with relief when he reflects on what could have been.He said Government needed to be commended with the way it dealt with the storm in the build-up and preparation through warning community of Igor’s potential to be on the scale or worse than Hurricane Fabian in 2003, which wreaked $250 million worth of damage, and in the subsequent clean-up operation.Mr Freisenbruch said that largely due to the storm weakening from Category 3 to 1, overall insured losses were relatively small, and he put the figure at between $5 million and $10 million.“The main message is that the Island prepared very well for it and we were very lucky,” he said.“On a forward looking basis, the big worry would be a sustained Category 3 or 4 storm - that would be an issue that would cause a tremendous amount of damage.”But he added that provided policyholders had their insurance coverage in place and had taken reasonable steps to protect their properties, vehicles or boats, they were well insured against such an event.Mr Freisenbruch said he was surprised to have received a higher volume of household related claims than those for marine.Looking ahead to next year, he is keen to grow the business across the board, in its health, home, marine, life, insurance broking, pension and captive management segments.The old adage rings true that the company’s key asset is its staff and Mr Freisenbruch is proud of the fact that 95 percent of his workforce is Bermudian and the professional standards it has been able to maintain in order to stay one step ahead of the competition.“The local insurance market is very competitive and each of our competitors are very good at what they do,” he said.“We know all the names out there and my belief is that the entire market does a good job for Bermuda and so in order for us to expand and achieve our objectives of growth we really have to be on top of our business to try to win a little bit more.“The best businesses really deliver value beyond price and hopefully we are one of them.”